Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

Ride-Sharing Uber and Self-Driving Car Firm Waymo Settle Legal Battle

Ride-sharing giant Uber and the self-driving car company Waymo have agreed to settle their legal battle over allegedly stolen trade secrets.

The surprise agreement Friday came as lawyers for the companies prepared to wrap up the first week of the case’s jury trial in San Francisco, California.

As part of the agreement, Uber will pay $245 million worth of its own shares to Waymo.

Waymo sued Uber last year, saying that one of its former engineers who later became the head of Uber’s self-driving car project took with him thousands of confidential documents.

After the lawsuit was filed, Uber fired the employee and fell behind on its plans to roll out self-driving cars in its ride-sharing service.

Waymo, a company hatched from Google, says the settlement also includes an agreement that Uber cannot use Waymo confidential information in its technology.

“We have reached an agreement with Uber that we believe will protect Waymo’s intellectual property now and into the future. We are committed to working with Uber to make sure that each company develops its own technology,” Waymo said in a statement.

Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, expressed regret for the company’s actions in a statement Friday.

“While we do not believe that any trade secrets made their way from Waymo to Uber, nor do we believe that Uber has used any of Waymo’s proprietary information in its self-driving technology, we are taking steps with Waymo to ensure our Lidar and software represents just our good work,” Khosrowshahi said in a statement.

Lidar is a laser-based system that helps self-driving cars to navigate their surroundings.

The trial so far included testimony from former Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick, who denied any attempt to steal trade secrets from Waymo.

Uber has faced a series of recent struggles, including public accusations of sexual harassment at the company and accusations it used software to thwart government regulators.

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Russians Held for ‘Mining Bitcoin’ At Top Nuclear Lab

Engineers at Russia’s top nuclear research facility have been detained after they attempted to mine bitcoin on its computers, Russian news agencies reported Friday.

Several employees at the Russian Federal Nuclear Center in the city of Sarov have been detained after making “an attempt to use the work computing facilities for personal ends, including for so-called mining,” a spokeswoman for the center, Tatiana Zalesskaya, told Interfax news agency.

“Their activities were stopped in time,” she added.

“The bungling miners have been detained by the competent authorities. As far as I know, a criminal case has been opened regarding them,” she added, without saying how many were detained.

The center is overseen by Rosatom, the Russian nuclear agency, and works on developing nuclear weapons.

Such attempts “at our enterprises will be harshly put down, this activity technically has no future and is punishable as a crime,” the center’s spokeswoman said.

In 2011, the center switched on a new supercomputer with a capacity of 1 petaflop, which at the time made it the twelfth most powerful in the world, Russian television reported.

During the Cold War, Sarov was a top-secret city in the Nizhny Novgorod region, about 500 kilometers (300 miles) east of Moscow. Its Soviet-era name was Arzamas-16.

The center was the birthplace of the Soviet Union’s first nuclear weapons.

Sarov is still a closed city whose inhabitants are subject to travel restrictions.

Vladimir Putin visited the nuclear research center in 2012 while campaigning for president.

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Twitter Turns First Profit, But Problems Remain

Twitter says it had first quarterly profit in history and returned to revenue growth in the fourth quarter.

 

Its stock increased in pre-market trading Thursday.

 

Though the results beat Wall Street’s cautious expectations, they don’t solve the company’s broader problems.

 

It’s been dealing with abuse, fake accounts and attempts by Russian agents to spread misinformation. The troubles have been compounded by stagnant user growth.

 

And with a prominent executive leaving shortly, and the CEO splitting its time with another company, Twitter’s now facing questions about just who is minding the store.

 

Twitter has said it’s dealing with the problems. The company has introduced a slew of new measures to weed out abusive accounts. Still, critics say the company is playing whack-a-mole with its problems, with often inadequate responses.

 

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International Aid Group, Intel to Launch Job Training Program for Refugees in Germany   

The International Rescue Committee has announced Project Core — a $1 million job training program for refugees in Germany.

The IRC is collaborating with computer giant Intel to to equip at least 1,000 migrants with “critical skills in information and communications technology and other in-demand sectors of the German economy.”

“It is exciting and encouraging to see that opportunities are being extended to refugees living in the country,” IRC President David Miliband said. 

He thanked Intel for its cooperation and commitment.

“The work we will do together epitomizes the power of partnerships to develop the right solutions and create meaningful impact,” Miliband said.

The IRC says more than 1.5 million refugees have arrived in Germany since 2015, seeking asylum from war, terrorism, poverty, and little hope their lives will get better if they stayed home.

The IRC says it has worked with the German government and civil organizations, sharing its expertise in educating child refugees and others in ways they can contribute to their new communities.

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Aid Group Launches Job Training Program for Refugees in Germany

The International Rescue Committee on Wednesday announced the creation of Project Core, a $1 million job training program for refugees in Germany.

The IRC said it would collaborate with computer giant Intel to equip at least 1,000 migrants with “critical skills in information and communications technology and other in-demand sectors of the German economy.”

“It is exciting and encouraging to see that opportunities are being extended to refugees living in the country,” IRC President David Miliband said. 

He thanked Intel for its cooperation and commitment. “The work we will do together epitomizes the power of partnerships to develop the right solutions and create meaningful impact,” he said.

The IRC said more than 1.5 million refugees had arrived in Germany since 2015, seeking asylum from war, terrorism and poverty, and having little hope their lives would have improved if they stayed home.

The IRC said it has worked with the German government and civil organizations, sharing its expertise in educating refugee children and others in ways they can contribute to their new communities.

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Report: Social Media Surveillance Unfairly Targeted Muslims

A social media monitoring tool used by the Boston Police Department to identify potential threats swept up the posts of people using the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter and a lawmaker’s Facebook update about racial inequality, according to a report released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.

The ACLU says in a report based on documents obtained through a public records request that the police department’s use of Geofeedia to mine the internet appears to have had little benefit to public safety while unfairly focusing on groups such as Muslims. Boston police say the ACLU’s conclusions are misguided and that the program helped police successfully monitor events that could lead to demonstrations or crowds and threaten security.

“Our main focus in all of this is public safety, not targeting speech, not targeting people’s political affiliations,” said Lt. Det. Michael McCarthy. “And quite frankly, to have the ACLU to even make that insinuation is not only insulting, but it’s completely misinformed,” he said.

Boston police used Geofeedia for two weeks in 2014 and again for more than a year starting in January 2015, according to the documents. The department’s use of the program became public in late 2016 after it solicited bids to spend $1.4 million for another social media monitoring software.

Police later dropped those plans amid backlash from groups like the ACLU.

The now-defunct location-based program allowed officials to set up email alerts for when certain keywords were used on social media. The alerts were vetted by analysts in the department’s Boston Regional Intelligence Center and the data was discarded once it was determined it wasn’t a potential public safety issue, McCarthy said.

Geofeedia was used by police departments across the country until social media companies cut off access to its data after concerns raised by the ACLU of northern California in 2016. The software was also widely used by companies interested in what their customers were saying about them online, and news organizations for reporting.

The documents show Boston police searched for keywords they identified as “Islamic extremist terminology,” including words like “ISIS” and “caliphate” as well as Arabic words such as “ummah,” which means “community.”

In the wake of the killing of three Muslim students near the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, police also tracked the hashtag #muslimlivesmatter, according to the report. After unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal shooting of a black man by a while police officer, police searched for the terms like “protest” and “Ferguson.”

The ACLU and the Boston-based Muslim Justice League say the tracking of common Arabic words, like “ummah,” is troubling. The ACLU said posts captured by the program that mentioned “ISIS” were either jokes or references to issues in the news.

“The Boston Police Department should never conduct surveillance targeting political speech or religious expression, but that’s exactly what their own records show they did when they used this social media monitoring software,” said Kade Crockford, co-author of the report and director of the group’s Technology for Liberty Program.

McCarthy said police didn’t target individuals, but chose keywords in response to events happening around the country or based on information from federal law enforcement. In the wake of the Chapel Hill shooting, for example, there were concerns about possible demonstrations or backlash against the Muslim community, he said.

“If we weren’t diligent in our efforts to provide safe events for those participating and attending … then we wouldn’t be doing our job as police officers,” he said.

Among those whose social media use prompted an alert was then-City Councilor Tito Jackson, for a 2014 Facebook post about homelessness and poverty that mentioned Ferguson, according to the report. City council was unaware at the time that police were using the Geofeedia program, Jackson said.

“I spoke out about their 2016 plan to spend $1.4 million on a social media surveillance system in part because I worried that the tool would be used to track people not because they did something wrong but because of their political views,” he said.

“Little did I know that that had already happened,” he said.

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Second Man Undergoes Gene Editing; Therapy Has No Safety Flags So Far

A second patient has been treated in a historic gene editing study in California, and no major side effects or safety issues have emerged from the first man’s treatment nearly three months ago, doctors said Tuesday.

Gene editing is a more precise way to do gene therapy, and it aims to permanently change someone’s DNA to try to cure a disease.

In November, Brian Madeux, 44, became the first person to have gene editing inside the body for a metabolic disease called Hunter syndrome that’s caused by a bad gene. Through an IV, he received many copies of a corrective gene and a genetic tool to put it in a precise spot in his DNA.

“He’s doing well and we were approved to go ahead with the second patient, who also is doing well,” said Dr. Paul Harmatz of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, who treated both men for the same disease. 

At a medical conference in San Diego, Harmatz reported safety results for the first six weeks after Madeux’s treatment. Sangamo Therapeutics, the company that makes the gene editing tool called zinc finger nucleases, said more safety information and initial results on effectiveness should come by midyear. 

Problems faded

Madeux had dizziness, cold sweats and weakness four days after the treatment but they went away on their own in a day, Harmatz said. Madeux also had a severe cough and a partially collapsed lung, but these were deemed unrelated to the gene therapy because he had had similar problems previously.

It was important that there were no signs of harm to his liver.

“That’s the big worry,” because changes in the liver might mean the immune system was fighting the treatment and possibly undermining its effectiveness, Harmatz said.

The liver results were welcome news after some other recent reports caused alarm. A prominent gene therapy scientist, Dr. James Wilson of the University of Pennsylvania, published two studies reporting liver and other serious problems in monkeys and piglets that were given experimental gene therapies. Several had to be euthanized.

The animal studies tested very high intravenous doses of a therapy that used a certain virus to carry the gene into cells. Relatives of this virus are widely used in human gene therapies, but Wilson said he did not believe that the results in animals had any bearing on use of lower doses, different types of the virus, or therapies given in different ways such as a shot.

Neuromuscular disorders

The results might mean it will be harder to develop gene therapies for some neuromuscular disorders — higher doses in the animal studies were thought necessary to get the therapy into the brain and throughout muscles.

The Sangamo study that Madeux is in used much lower doses of a different type of the virus.

Wilson said it was important to the field that any safety concerns be published quickly. He helped lead a very early gene therapy experiment that killed a teen in 1999, putting some other studies on hold for years.

An editorial in the journal HumanGeneTherapy, which published one of Wilson’s animal studies, said gene therapy experiments should not stop, because that might deprive patients of potentially lifesaving treatments.

In the last year, the first gene therapies were approved in the United States to treat cancer and an inherited form of blindness.

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